Citizens of Lansing and the surrounding communities met February 10 to discuss a topic making headlines nationally and locally: energy production and the costs associated with it.
Members of Lansing Can Do Better, a citizen group opposing the coal and biomass energy plant proposed by the Lansing Board of Water and Light, discussed alternatives to a new coal plant. “We feel strongly there are other options to what they are proposing,” said Steve Rall, a Lansing citizen.
The group has put together an alternative energy plan entitled “Plan B” that was presented to the LBWL’s Citizen Advisory Board on Thursday, February 12. The plan advocates shutting down the Eckert plant as planned, but meeting increased energy demand by increasing energy efficiency, installing gas turbines and eventually phasing in larger amounts of renewable energy.
“There are a lot of studies that show we use energy inefficiently,” said Douglass Jester, a member of LCDB and a former fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Part of his job at the DNR was to review permit applications for power plants, and he has effectively been studying power plants in Michigan for the past 30 years. Through installing in buildings better insulation, more efficient lighting and more efficient appliances, 30% of the energy used can be saved, Jester explained.
“This is really about making peoples homes and businesses more comfortable and more productive than they are now. And it can be done for a cost that is less than the cost of the power that we are using now,” Jester said.
Cost of Coal
“The idea that coal is cheap is a misnomer,” said Rall to the argument that a coal plant would be easiest on rate-payers pockets, “Coal is not cheap.” The cost of coal to power Michigan’s plants is estimated to be $1.36 billion per year, all of which is purchased out of state, according to a report prepared by the Michigan Public Service Commission. “Once a coal plant is built, the construction jobs are gone, said Rall. “With energy efficiency, with renewable energy, with manufacturing for renewable energy, that’s the way to go for our future,” Rall concluded.
With the Obama administration promising to make good on claims to establish environmental policies, the cost of emitting greenhouse gases is unclear. “There was a real rush to get these coal plant proposals out there and approved before the end of the Bush administration,” said Ann Woiwode, director of the Lansing chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our concern was that the coal companies and the power companies were not letting people know they would be passing along the costs of these additional carbon controls after the plants were built,” Woiwode said.
A Rush to Action?
Despite the prominence of the issue of energy in policy and media, time is needed, said Rall. “First of all we have to wait because there are so many uncertainties: financial uncertainties, the cost of coal is skyrocketing, the cost of construction is skyrocketing, we don’t know what the new carbon laws are going to be,” he explained.
“We think it’s going to be very hard to make the case that any of these plants ought to be permitted,” concluded Woiwode.